This week disaster struck Port-Au Prince, the capital of Haiti. A 7.0-magnitude earthquake brought this city of nearly 2 million people to the ground. The National Palace, hospitals, schools and all manner of buildings and homes have completely collapsed. Beneath this wreckage lie potentially thousands of people. Tens of thousands more are already believed to be dead. There is little help for injured survivors, many of whom are being treated in makeshift triage centers located in parking lots or not being treated at all because they are out digging through rubble, searching for loved ones. Haiti needs immediate help to deal with the current state of disaster in the capital city. But this already struggling nation will need ongoing aid to rebuild itself into a modern society.
Problems are not new for Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, which has been a public health disaster for a very long time. Much of the population lives in a devastating state of poverty, and malnutrition is a huge problem, especially among children. Nearly 200,000 people are living with HIV or AIDS and less than half of Haiti’s citizens have access to consistent drinking water, according to a CNN article published yesterday. Keep in mind that these were the conditions before this disaster struck. Now, people who were living with next to nothing have been left with absolutely nothing. Tuesday’s quake has taken a mess, flipped it upside down and created a bigger mess.
The people of Haiti need urgent aid and fortunately many nations are responding and are aware of how pressing the situation is. The digging is already underway to try to rescue those who are trapped beneath the rubble, and these efforts need to continue as efficiently as possible. Relief workers need to find a way to organize the distribution of food and water so that these items are accessible to all of those who need them. The wreckage needs to be cleared away to make the city inhabitable for the millions of people who have been affected by this quake. It is crucial that these efforts move as quickly as possible to prevent the development of diseases that can emerge from the unsanitary conditions that follow such disasters. But this immediate recovery is just the beginning of what Haiti needs.
Haiti should be rebuilt to a better state than it was in before. Port-Au Prince needs a functioning sewer system and all citizens need access to clean water. Haiti needs the infrastructure of modern societies, and work needs to be done to elevate this country out of its state of debilitating poverty. The world has heard Haiti’s current cry for help and there has been a huge outreach of support. But this show of support needs to continue after the initial debris has been cleared to help get Haiti to the level of a working nation.
What struck Haiti on Tuesday was a cataclysmic natural disaster that in no way could have been avoided. Earthquakes have happened before and they will surely happen again. What is different about Haiti is that it was not able to operate properly before, and in the wake of this disaster their society is not able to operate at all. The country needs to be rebuilt to a point where it would be able to efficiently manage disaster situations.
The citizens of Haiti are in the midst of a colossal human tragedy and they need help. They needed help years ago, but they particularly need it now. Whether help comes in the form of a donation to the Red Cross or a small thought or prayer at some point during the day, I urge the entire campus to do what it can. The people of Haiti are suffering terribly, and all people have a responsibility to lend whatever support they can in response to this tragedy.
Michelle DeWitt is an assistant editorial page editor.